Second grade begins

16.3.10

A young school is a pioneering school needing guidance, direction and encouragement. This can be in the form of a mentor or sister school, and if not that then an administrator or principal is necessary. Trembling Trees needed a necessary. And the faculty, one day realized it and in an even bolder move, did something about it

We all looked to Mr. Worm since he was handsome and charismatic and most importantly well-liked but he wilted under the weight of responsibility. Appropriately he suffered from chronic back problems. Perhaps that is unfair to say that his back problems related to the lack of backbone at the school but the thought crisscrossed my mind several times.

Everyone else was controversial in some way, even Mrs. Squirrel who seemed kind and non-judgmental had a hard time saying what she thought. She constantly held back until things got so bad she started speaking her mind. But that would come later.

Mrs. Bluejay was heavily leaned upon because she had the most experience but it is one thing to be part of an establish school and another to lead a new one. She had two voices: one was soft and round like her body and the other was loud like her opinions. Mrs. Bear couldn’t stand her. Mrs. Bluejay felt the same way about her. Did I mention meetings were stressful?

When I was in the grades meetings I often felt like I was the mediator between Mrs. Bear and Mrs. Rabbit. I could relate to Mrs. Bear’s fiery temperament as well as Mrs. Rabbit’s melancholic one. Mr. Turtle was almost never around for our meetings. And he had left.

Now with the new school year starting, everyone was moving up a grade, as this is the Waldorf way, to stay with the same class from first to eight grade, Mrs. Bear’s class would be fourth graders, Mrs. Rabbit’s third grade, and mine second grade, this meant we had to find a new teacher to take on the upcoming first grade class.

***

Mr. Wolf was quickly hired. He was tall, had an ample belly and a booming voice. He was instantly liked and since he had some experience to lean on, his star rose quickly like Mrs. Bluejay’s. I didn’t like him.

The school faculty also hired an administrator to lead Trembling Trees, as the new school year begun. I liked the woman who applied. She was an established and practicing mediator, and seemed the obvious choice to me.

But in the end the faculty voted for Mr. Skunk, a short and stocky man who had a lazy eye and chronic halitosis. My children were terrified of him. I was especially frightened when he turned the janitor’s closet next to our classroom into his office. Not down the hall, around the corner or on the other side, right next to mine. When I opened my door he was immediately to my left. The troll was making his home under a bridge and that bridge happened to be my classroom.

***

As the new school year was getting underway, Mr. Worm asked if I could meet him and Mrs. Rabbit for some coffee to go over some business.

Mr. Worm arrived soon after I had secured a table outside.

“Hey Miss Cox! How you doing?”

“Good, how are you?”

“Great,” he smiled.

“So, what’s this all about? Shall we wait for Mrs. Rabbit?”

We delayed a little bit by getting some drinks but Mr. Worm decided to start, “We just wanted to talk about your needs and what we could do to help you out for the new year. I know last year was rough and we want to make sure things run smoothly. For instance, the big question is, do you have a mentor?”

“Yes,” I beamed, “Amy recommended her. She talked to her on my behalf explaining my situation. Her name is Joanna. She’s great. She’s done the grades cycle a few times – a lot of experience and just a sweet old lady.”

“Wonderful!” He pulled out a small notepad and pen and jotted a few things down.

“Ah! There she is,” I waved to Mrs. Rabbit.

As Mr. Worm turned around to say hello, I noticed something written at the top of his notepad: Fire Lani??? The word fire was underlined a couple of times and written down in a way as if he was jotting down notes during a phone call or had been at a meeting.

***

My second grade class had been whittled down from last year's more popular numbers but this is the class I picture when I think about Waldorf. In fact, I have to remind myself that the first year even occurred. I am sure this was because I was unbelievably stressed and any connection I once had with my former first grade students was severed as they all went to the more established Waldorf school.

#14’s mom still frequented the Trembling Trees though because her son attended kindergarten so her letter stating she wanted to move the kids to a closer school was a lie. But I knew this. We all knew this.

Anyway one day her daughter was with her. I said hello with a big smile to the little girl who I used to slide down the slide with. She was shy but had opened up to me throughout the year. But this time, she withdrew without saying a word and hid behind her mother. My mouth hung open. #14 never spoke to me again. I wondered what her mother had said about me to change her heart. It didn’t matter though. It made forgetting my first year easier since the confusion caused so much hurt.

So with the second year life slowed down just a little bit, like driving at a normal speed after much speed racing. At least I could enjoy some of the passing scenery. I started to figure out my style, if there is such a thing, because the major distractions were no longer there.

I had thirteen disciples who loved me and hated me and there were times I felt the same. Acorn #1 was my enigma, #2 the brain, #3 my shadow, #4 miss perfect, #5 the rock star, #6 the Zen master, #7 the artist, #8 the athlete, #9 mr. goofy, #10 the leader, #11 the comedian, #12 the all-around, and #13 the geek.

When you have a smaller class the personalities of the children are magnified. We were like a nuclear family. In a larger class big personalities diminish. But when you work with the children in a more intimate setting you get to know your children better. It’s the classic debate of large versus small classroom sizes.

Yet the more time marches on, the more I can see the forest and not just the trees. I never should have had a large class to begin with – so many of those children should have been prevented from entering first grade but the school wanted to grow and fast. They were proud of it and I can’t say that I blame them. It’s just I took the fall or the blame for their decisions and desires.

Mr. Wolf’s class was large, another testament to Trembling Trees healthy kindergartens but Mrs. Bluejay recognized that her cohorts were not doing anything to get the kindergartners ready for first grade. So she started working with Mrs. Peacock and Mr. Worm on exercises and games and assessment tests. Mr. Wolf was given a full time assistant to help shape the class from the beginning. I’ll call her Mrs. Raccoon. More on her later.

I was a little infuriated that no one seemed to recognize that the reason why Mr. Wolf was successful with his class was because he was treated differently. #1’s mother practically clasped her hands together in delight when she saw Mr. Wolf and I knew she was wishing her daughter was in his class instead of mine. She was one of the parents who were indecisive about keeping her daughter in my class but at the last minute she decided to “give me a chance to gain my sea-legs” as her husband so eloquently put it.

I was also angry that no one seemed to understand that many of the children I inherited were not prepared for first grade and yet I was to blame. Mr. Wolf’s son who was strangely a-sexual looking was in Mrs. Rabbit’s class so Mr. Wolf had the credibility of being a parent. He was a white male and he was married to another Waldorf teacher. Oh and he had experience. I suppose Mrs. Rabbit, Mrs. Bear and I were all a little frustrated by his King Midas touch, with good reason too since he was ultimately the only one who wasn’t fired.

A division was established then during my second year with Mr. Skunk as king of the forest. It seems natural that he should be king of the forest, as administrator but he played favorites. For example, much to the protest of the other faculty members, the loudest being from Mrs. Bear, a “Core Group” was formed consisting of Mrs. Bluejay, Mr. Worm (later replaced by Mrs. Squirrel when Mr. Worm stepped down due to health problems), and Mr. Wolf.

Yes, that is the name they called themselves. The Core Group. This too was hotly contested. I’m surprised they didn’t buy matching boiled wool jackets and silk scarves. Maybe they did. Who knows. They held private meetings and reported to the faculty. We had no idea what they were doing but we were to trust them in a school that had very little trust.

The democracy that was Steiner’s vision was lost on the belief that this school needed to get its act together and there were “certain” people holding us back. This elitist group became the court of law in the land, thus most of us who went to plead our cases left defeated or angry or both. When I went to them asking if we could come together and discuss what happened in the first and fourth grade class last year as a case study, Mr. Skunk told me that, “From what I heard you should have been fired last year. I would have fired you.”

The Core Group became official when its members announced in the school’s newsletter that any parent who wished to be heard could hold a private audience with them. Mr. Skunk opened the door of his janitor’s closet to complaining parents and when the rest of us complained that the parents should first come to their child’s teacher Mrs. Bluejay’s response was, “Not every parent feels comfortable with their teacher.”

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